In the world of Jewish education, the people who run our synagogue religious schools are often the most under-appreciated and under-recognized. We often defer to the role our rabbis and cantors play when reflecting on the Jewish education of our children and certainly the role a child’s Hebrew tutor plays. But behind the scenes running the religious school is a director of education (sometimes known as the principal) who cares about the Jewish journey of the students and their families.
For the last two weeks, I have traveled across the country to participate and present at professional learning conferences designed for these educators. The Conservative movement’s Jewish Educators’ Assembly (JEA) and the Reform movement’s National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) sponsored the two events held in Philadelphia/New Jersey and Seattle respectively.
Collectively, over 450 educators gathered to learn about the challenges and opportunities that technology and social media offer us in education. (Yes, both conferences engaged in the same theme.) While together in their respective conferences, educators took the opportunity to network, collaborate, and engage in meta-level conversations about Jewish education in the 21st century. If you want a glimpse at all they learned and toiled with, you can check out the twitter feeds for #jea59 and #nateseattle.
I had the opportunity to present at both conferences, which gave me the chance to learn with the participants in a unique way. These educators work hard. They work hard at their own learning. I only wish their students and the parents could see them hard at work. I wish they saw the role modeling in life-long learning these school leaders engage in. In addition to the core education components, each of the conferences included aspects of Torah L’shma (text study for the sake of study), offered t’filah, and community-building activities. A perfect dugmah (example) of what our synagogues are trying to offer the student learners. From sun-up at 8 a.m. until way past sun-down (sometimes after 11 p.m.) these educators gave 1000% of themselves for the sake of their own learning, for the sake of being better so that they can serve our people better.
These educators don’t make a fortune; they don’t do the work because of the first-class perks they get, or the year-end bonuses. They do this work because it is a true passion for each and every one of them. So the next time you wonder through the halls of your synagogue, take time to peak your head into the office of the education director, and just thank him/her for dedicating themselves to this sacred work.